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   Thomas L. Bonn Research Files 1935-1983 [Bulk Dates: 1939-1941].

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Thomas Bonn Research Files; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


This collection consists primarily of documents relating to the founding and early years of Pocket Books, a New York publishing firm, and its founder, Robert De Graff. The collection also includes several research notes and articles written by Thomas Bonn, a librarian and historian whose work centered largely on Pocket Books in the early 1980s.

At a Glance

Call No.:MS#1453
Bib ID:6764611 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Bonn, Thomas L.
Title:Thomas L. Bonn Research Files 1935-1983 [Bulk Dates: 1939-1941].
Physical description:0.42 linear ft. ( 1 document box).
Language(s):In English
Access: This collection has no restrictions. This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.  More information »



The materials are arranged alphabetically.

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Scope and Content

The bulk of Thomas Bonn's research files comprise documents related to Robert De Graff's career and to the early years of Pocket Books. The earliest documents in the collection concern De Graff's brief stint as a magazine seller for Garden City Publishing Company. Most of the documents, however, date from 1938 to 1941. These latter documents include hand-written notes and other materials relating to Pocket Books' initial publicity and distribution strategies, records of the sales figures that the company attained through its various distribution channels, and letters of praise sent both from customers and distributors. The collection also includes newspaper clippings about De Graff and his company, documents relating to a law suit that Pocket Books filed against a company that mimicked its approach, checks from the War Department and Navy, announcements of De Graff's lectures on such topics as the state of book publishing in South America, and several notes and articles written by Thomas Bonn.

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Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

This collection has no restrictions.

 This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Thomas Bonn Research Files; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Finding aid in repository; folder level control.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Daniel Vaca (GSAS 2012).

Finding aid written by Daniel Vaca in June 2008.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion November 7, 2008 Finding aid written in English.
    2008-11-07 File created.
    2009/01/15 xml document instange created by Patrick Lawlor

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Avon Books.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Bonn, Thomas L.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Book industries and trade--Latin America--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Book industries and trade--United States--History--20th century.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Book industries and trade--United States--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Paperback wholesalers.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Paperbacks--Prices--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Paperbacks--Publishing--United States--History--20th century.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Paperbacks--Publishing--United States--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Pocket editions.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Publishers and publishing--United States--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Sears, Roebuck and Company--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Simon and Schuster, inc.--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note


While serving during the 1970s and 1980s as a librarian at the State University of New York, College at Cortland, Thomas L. Bonn wrote regularly on the history of paperback books. In addition to co-editing the journal Paperback Quarterly: A Journal of Mass-Market Paperback History, Bonn wrote a number of articles on paperback history and an authoritative book titled Under Cover: An Illustrated History of American Mass-Market Paperbacks (Penguin, 1982). These research files contain some of the source materials that Bonn drew upon for these studies.

For Bonn, no single company in American publishing history deserves more credit for bringing mass-market paperbacks to American bookshelves than Pocket Books, a New-York based company that released its first book list in June 1939. To be sure, as Bonn explains in Under Cover, paperback books had existed previously. German and English publishers had begun experimenting with small paperback books as early as the mid-nineteenth century. Focusing either on dime-novel fiction or literary titles, however, those publishers never reached mass audiences. Such English publishers as Albatross and Penguin Books began reaching wider audiences in the 1930s, and Pocket Books soon extended their model of selling popular titles at low cost by adding a few key innovations.

Pocket Books' principal innovations centered around its decision to produce and distribute books in the style of magazines, a development that reflected the knowledge and experience of the company's founder, Robert De Graff. Before founding Pocket Books in 1938, De Graff had worked for fourteen years selling hardback books, reprints, and magazines. Pocket Books accordingly printed large volumes of books at high speeds and selected titles that appealed to general literary tastes, sometimes publishing books related to popular films. Releasing between five and ten new books every month, De Graff distributed this steady stream of paperbacks through previously untapped outlets, such as department stores, newsstands, chain stores such as Sears, and eventually drug stores and grocery stores. In wartime, Pocket Books established distribution agreements with the Armed Services. These innovations in distribution, Bonn suggests, marked Pocket Books as the first "mass market" paperback publisher in the United States.

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